Farm Boys – Part 1

Greetings and salutations!

A few years back, my friend Wayne Brabender and I, in a brief moment of inspiration (or insanity!) came up with the idea to do a photo show of the farms where we were raised. Wayne lives on the farm he was raised on a few miles outside of Middleton, Wisconsin that borders the city of Madison. I was raised on a farm in west central North Dakota near the city of Hazen. The title of our exhibit was “Two Old Farm Boys Go Home” and for this article, I’ve dropped the word old because if you met us, it would be self evident!

For the exhibit, we each selected ten images that portrayed things that were important and had meaning for us growing up on the farm. For me, I made a couple of extra trips back to North Dakota to capture photos of the different seasons and to really think how I could tell the farm story with photos and a few words. In this post, Part 1, I’ll share my ten photos and next week in Part 2, watch for some of the out takes, those photos that didn’t make the cut. Hope you enjoy the show.

The Family That Milks Together

This panorama was taken of the inside of the main barn door. The names and initials carved in the door represent a family history of sorts. Min and Henry are my grandparents, Don and Margie are my parents (those names were carved over 65 years ago), Ed and Jo are Dad’s sisters, and Jim is his cousin. My brother and I share the initials TM.


Note: The inspiration for this photo was during a conversation with my sister, Janet, as I was taking photos inside the barn. I turned around and there it was, the centerpiece of my exhibit.

Welcome Rain

The barn was the place on the farm where revenue was generated. The cows were milked, calves sheltered, and the milk or cream stored until picked up by the milkman. Rainy days on the farm meant either a trip to town or an afternoon nap (rare in the summer). Rains also brightened hopes for good crops.


Note: This photo was taken through the window of the bathroom in the house! I found capturing the barn a real challenge until I saw this scene, it tells more than one story.

I Pledge…

4-H was a big and important part of life on the farm. Not only did we take part in local club and county activities, 4-H provided opportunities to travel and learn more about the outside world. Our county livestock and dairy cattle judging teams participated in national contests. These were great learning and fun developmental experiences.

Mannhaven on the Missouri

Beginning at 8 or 9 years of age, I would help my Grandpa Isaak drive cattle to this summer pasture, a distance of about 10 miles from his farm and about 7 miles from our farm. I rode my pony Penny behind the herd; the boss cow knew where she was going. This place holds special memories for me, even more so since I own a part of this land along the Missouri River. (Taken with an iPhone 5).

Obsolete Hardware

This room in the barn was the original milk house where milk was separated into cream. Cream and eggs were like cash at the local grocery store where they were traded for groceries and other supplies. When a new, more modern milk house was built, this room became a feed room, then eventually used for storage. On the wall are an old lantern, dehorner, and tags to identify cows.

Raising Rocks

During breaks between planting, haying, and harvesting, we picked rocks. Although it was hot, dusty work, it was important because rocks could damage farm equipment. They weren’t hard to find on our farm. It’s in an area where the edge of the glacier from the last Ice Age made a huge deposit. With the freezing, thawing and heaving of the soil, a new crop emerged each year. Picked rocks were piled up in the field or deposited along fencerows.


Note: I’ve also called this image “Rocks, Rocks Everywhere!” Rock picking was like a full employment program, it was something to keep the kids busy!

Waste Not

Most farmers in our area did their own equipment repairs and maintenance. That meant a variety of parts and supplies were on hand to make those repairs. Not much was thrown away because who knew when something might be needed for a repair.


Note: This image was taken in my Dad’s shop, he didn’t throw anything away!

Trinity Sunset

The country church near our farm was a big part of our upbringing as well as our social life. We were related in some way to most of those who belonged to this church. After services adults would catch up on the local news and kids would play in the yard. Since we milked cows, we were often just in time and sometimes late for Sunday School. With five kids, it was a scramble to get there on time.


You’ve Got Mail

On our farm, mail was the link to the outside world. The mailman’s noon delivery brought letters from family and friends (and later, girlfriends), library books, magazines such as Hoard’s Dairyman and The Dakota Farmer, the weekly newspaper, the Hazen Star, and Gurney’s seed catalog. In the spring, baby chicks, ducks and geese arrived and before school started in the fall, the all-important orders came from Sears and Montgomery Ward.

Winters Chill

North Dakota winters are long and often very difficult. Even as snow piled up and water lines froze, the livestock needed feed and bedding. In the 50s and 60s much of the work such as cleaning the barn and hauling feed to the cattle was done by hand. In later years, the farm became more mechanized and less dependent on manual labor. The steam clouds in the background are Lake Sakakawea (3 miles away) starting to freeze over.


Wayne and I had a great time photographing and putting this show together. To our surprise, we also got a lot of positive feedback. During the exhibit, we did a gallery talk and had a good crowd that asked a lot of questions, not only about the photography but about life on the farm. For me, this was a project that has yielded a lot of photos and inspiration for other projects. Again, hope you enjoyed the show.

Until next week, travel safe.

A Farm Boy,



6 thoughts on “Farm Boys – Part 1

  1. Being from a suburban upbringing I always enjoy finding out how others came to maturity. Your pictures remind me of many things I’ve enjoyed as an adult living in more rural communities. Thanks for slowing down enough to capture the essence of your life growing up in ND. I look forward to more.

  2. blockquote, div.yahoo_quoted { margin-left: 0 !important; border-left:1px #715FFA solid !important; padding-left:1ex !important; background-color:white !important; } Fun photos. My favorite is the fence at sunset or rise with snow. You reminded me of my years judging 4 H speaking contests. I sure learned what 4 H “really means”. Some of the cutest five year olds all dressed up standing behind poster board visuals bigger than they were. A great program that got kids speaking publicly early on. I hope this post was on a delay or you have returned to your farm lad roots and getting up in the middle of the night to milk the cows. I will be watching for a cow in the backyard when we get home.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad

    1. Hey Bob,
      Thanks for your comments. I did a lot of demonstrations in 4-H, helped to develop a life skill of organizing thoughts and teaching others. I still do some judging, sometimes speeches and demos but mostly photography at county fairs, do 4-6 each year. A lot of fun and a chance to interact with kids and parents.
      I didn’t purposely set the release for 4 AM today but it is a good metaphor for early rising and milking those cows! You might see another post this afternoon as I reset it for 4 PM, my usual release time.
      Take care,

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